To mark the fourth anniversary of the Croydon riots, BUSHRA AHMED recalls that infamous night and assesses what progress has been made towards rebuilding West Croydon
I cannot begin to describe what it felt like to witness the Croydon riots of August 8, 2011. For one night, Croydon felt like a war zone.
Watching from your home, while your community of 50 years suddenly turns on itself and attack their own is terrifying.
Watching your family business being set alight is unbelievably heartbreaking.
Four years on, the memories are still very raw. But where are we now? What progress has been made to repair the damage and heal the wounds?
Along London Road, around Broad Green and Old Town, where the worst of the rioting in Croydon happened, there are now some signs of physical regeneration. Recent activity on Royal Mansions Parade signifies the start of the rebuilding process for the owners of the site, after winning a three-year-long battle with MOPAC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, to fulfill its obligations over riot compensation, which in itself is another tale of incompetence and a lack of will on the part of all levels of government.
Then there’s a new Italian cafe, Gellatiamo, under Gary Court, while the old Honda garage site is now a Caribbean restaurant, Timber Gardens.
Down from Royal Mansions, towards West Croydon Station, and London Road shops have had a Croydon facelift, with new signage and shop fronts making the area look almost posh. The old General Hospital site is full of noisy school kids during term time on a temporary site, with the new premises being built alongside.
In terms of community investment, the CVA, Croydon Voluntary Action, has built up local connections that are beginning to take shape, and there is a huge opportunity now for the area in the form of the Big Local Fund, £1,000,000 over the next 10 years for the Broad Green area, specifically resident-led and headed up by Paul Macey.
But the reality is that there was insufficient riot regeneration money spent quickly enough on the upgrade of the shop fronts for shopkeepers and residents in the area most badly affected in the riots.
This was a failure by the then Conservative-run council, who openly considered north Croydon a waste of effort.
The underlying causes of the riots were never dealt with. In fact, Government austerity measures mean that a whole section of society feels even more disconnected than before the riots. There is real anxiety that civil disturbances as we suffered in 2011 could happen again.
No one really talks about that night any more. That is strange because the riots were the catalyst for so many opportunities in Croydon. Those interest groups who had the ear of the Tory Council and the Tory MP have made the most of it.
Riot victims didn’t see any benefits from the donations made by ordinary people to the Mayor’s Fund. And no one can tell us where those donations ended up.
The Conservative MP for Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, ensured that Fairfield ward and other parts of his constituency benefited immediately from the riot recovery money, despite not being so badly affected, if at all, by the looting, rioting and destruction.
Meanwhile, London Road – where the worst of the blazes actually happened, but which is not in a Tory-voting area – would have lost all funding for the improvements now being made to shop fronts and pavements had it not been for the Labour council, elected in 2014, fighting hard to retain what was left, when the funding was in danger of being clawed back by the Greater London Authority.
The riot-hit areas have missed out in other ways, too. Portas Pilot money, to help boost local high streets, didn’t come to London Road, where the destruction of Royal Mansions ripped a hole in the area.
As a resident of 50 years and with 30 years’ experience of running a business on London Road, my feeling is that as a community, at that time, we weren’t experienced or connected enough to build ourselves up on the back of the tragedy.
That’s why I started West Croydon Voice. Through it, I have managed to reach the highest levels of government and other organisations to lobby successfully on behalf of riot victims and our area of West Croydon.
Four years on, let’s not brush aside the real reason for Croydon’s “renaissance”, nor forget the riot victims who are, for the most part, still suffering as a result, both mentally and financially.
Let’s make sure those areas and communities worst affected benefit as much as those affluent opportunists that hitched a ride to their coat tails.
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